Allison Palmer is a land management professional and writer, living and working in Southern California. Her work has appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Belle Ombre, and The Bangalore Review.
Late Afternoon:On the Passing of a Coworker
A peaceful moment can be broken so quickly (and easily) by the incursions of life, interruptions we know to be possible but generally do not anticipate as we chat with colleagues, rummage through refrigerators for lunch, and hope for an easy commute back home. As they say, everything can change in a single moment. These thoughts accompany me, as I look back on the sudden passing of a coworker and recall the day’s events, a few haunting moments that arrived late one afternoon. In a blur, one of the department supervisors had approached me in a stairwell and calmly asked for a cardiac rescue device, all the while motioning towards the parking lot. Upon retrieving the unit from a nearby lobby, I ran outside and found ten maintenance workers, tired and sweaty from the day, gathered near a parked car, where their colleague lay on the pavement in a pool of urine and vomit, turning purple, as two crew members performed rhythmic cycles of chest compressions. The experience did indeed have the texture and feeling of a dream. I administered the resuscitation device, and we continued our efforts, until the fire department arrived for a sustained and more professional attempt to rescue the man. Our part was soon over. We stood by in disbelief, as a light breeze moved through a labyrinth of high tree branches, and the interminable chatter of police radios eroded the silence. Each moment seemed out of step with what should have been taking place in the late afternoon, the routine departure of a work crew after their long shift had ended, the gradual darkening of the sun, 2
anticipation of an evening meal, all the things we expect to enjoy as the day unfolds. However, an incursion of reality had different things in mind; we found the end of life taking place before our eyes. We had done all that we could in the face of things, managing to win for our colleague a few more precious moments of life before the end, which came shortly thereafter at a local hospital, his wife standing nearby. In poignant fashion, he had fallen near his little pickup truck, the dented, dark green vehicle which seemed so aptly to reflect his personality as it heralded his daily arrival and departure. In the end, there was little to say, as we stood in shock and watched teardrops falling from the cheeks of large, hardworking men. It was simply all over, and there we were. Someone with feelings and thoughts and the tangible aspects of personality had left, and we encountered the loss on a deep and powerful level, perhaps even thinking ahead to our own time of passing, late in the afternoon of an otherwise ordinary day.